Whenever you are trying to resolve a dispute you may have with someone, it is good to hear their side of the story first. You may think that they were trying to hurt you by something they did or said, while in fact their intentions may have been innocent. Therefore the Bible warns us to listen to other people’s excuses and reasons for what they have done before we charge them with sin:
To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.
In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines. (Proverbs 18:13,17 NIV).
Therefore, we generally need to be careful not to slander our brothers and sisters in Christ before we have heard their side of the argument. For instance, if you hear that someone in the church has done something hurtful to someone else, don’t automatically assume that the charges are correct. Go to the offender and find out what they’re intentions are. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding. Or perhaps it was something that was said in the heat of the moment, and now you may be able to calm them down and convince them to apologize.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that we need to be openminded, we do not always need to have both sides of the story before we judge sin. Direct conversation is preferred primarily in order to investigate the truth of the allegations. But some sins are so black-and-white that guilt can be established by just a cursory knowledge of the facts. Some things are just plain wrong, and there is no good excuse for them.
We find an example of this kind of sin in the Bible in the book of I Corinthians. The Apostle Paul, in this case, openly condemns a man for his sins before he talks to him personally and hears his side of the story. That is because the thing the man has done is unquestionably wrong, and needs to be immediately condemned. Here is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. (I Corinthians 5:1-3)
Paul is very wise in how he condemns the sinner in this passage. Paul, who was at the time somewhere far away, heard a credible report that a man in the church of Corinth was sleeping with his stepmother. Paul is shocked that such a sin would be openly tolerated, so he immediately writes back to warn the church in the strongest way possible that this is wrong. But He is clever in how he does so: he does not give the man’s name. That way the man’s reputation will not be ruined if indeed the rumors are false. But if it is true, that a man really is sleeping with his mother-in-law, and that people in the church are really bragging about it, then his audience will immediately know who he is talking about and be able to discipline the man. Paul is comfortable passing judgment on the man even though he is not physically present. Paul does not need to be present in order to pass judgment in this case. THERE IS NO EXCUSE THAT CAN JUSTIFY A MAN SLEEPING WITH HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW. Thus Paul is able to condemn this act openly in a public letter.
There are other sins as well that are so wicked that they can be condemned outright before a full investigation is made. Anyone who is committing one of these sins is committing grave immorality, regardless of what excuse they might have for doing so. These things are just plain wrong:
Sleeping with another person’s spouse.